Virtual School Meanderings

July 22, 2021

BREAKING: CMD Charges ALEC With Illegal Electioneering

Note that ALEC has been behind much of the legislation that has opened up the market for corporate K-12 online learning providers, and their education committee has traditionally been co-chaired by someone from the cyber charter industry.

Hi there Democracy Advocates!

We have some breaking news that we want to share with you.

CMD has just filed a whistleblower complaint with the IRS against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is illegally providing its state legislative members with sophisticated voter management and campaign software deeply tied to the Republican Party and worth more than $6 million per election cycle.

In the complaint, we detail ALEC’s extensive and ongoing violations of its 501(c)(3) charitable tax-status, which prohibits engaging in any electoral activity, based on information gathered from ALEC’s legislative members and other documents we obtained through investigations and open records requests.

If the IRS finds that ALEC broke the law it could revoke the group’s nonprofit status, which would be a financial blow to the pay-to-play trade group, which brings together state lawmakers and corporate lobbyists to write model legislation that favors big business at the expense of working people and the environment.

CMD Files IRS Whistleblower Complaint Against ALEC for Illegal In-Kind Campaign Contributions Worth More Than $6 Million

CMD and Common Cause will also file campaign finance complaints against ALEC in 15 states for providing sophisticated voter management and campaign software linked to the RNC to its 2,000-plus legislative members.

Read More

The Center for Media and Democracy is working to file campaign finance complaints in 15 states. Please donate now to help CMD expose ALEC’s illegal campaign contributions!

If you’d prefer to donate by check, please mail it to:

Center for Media and Democracy
P.O. Box 259010
Madison, WI 53725-9010

Associated Press Covers CMD Complaint

The AP reported on our whistleblower complaint today. Read the story.

“What the complaints show is that ALEC is a partisan organization at heart, dedicated to promoting Republican policies and supporting elected officials who will implement those policies,” said Arn Pearson, the center’s executive director.

Numerous outlets, including ABC News and The Washington Post, ran the AP story.

Others, including Newsweek, wrote up their own stories about the complaint.

More Coverage of ALEC from CMD

ALEC Politicians Belong to Neo-Confederate Organization

CMD has identified six state lawmakers affiliated with ALEC who were recently active members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Read More

ALEC Lawmakers Eye Arizona-Style Election Audits in Other States

ALEC lawmakers are hoping to copy and paste the controversial Arizona “audit” of the 2020 November presidential election just like they do model legislation from the corporate bill mill.

Read More
Thank you for keeping up with our investigative reporting. We appreciate your support as we expose the most nefarious groups and funders in the United States.

Arn Pearson, Executive Director

CMD is a 501(c)(3) national watchdog and media group that conducts in-depth investigations into corruption and the undue influence of corporations on media and democracy. Our work is regularly cited by news outlets, policymakers, and grassroots activists working to build a more sustainable future and just society. CMD is reader-supportedPlease make your tax-deductible donation today. Thank you!

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February 8, 2021

Commentary – Emergency Crisis Remote Learning is not Virtual Schooling

So last week I came across a blog entry written by Don Lee (i.e., “vice president of government affairs for Stride, Inc., chairman of ALEC’s Private Sector Advisory Council, and former member of the Colorado House of Representatives) and posted on the American Legislative Exchange Council’s website.  The entry was entitled “Emergency Crisis Remote Learning is not Virtual Schooling.”

The entry stood out to me because it is indicative of those that is often written by proponents of various forms of K-12 online learning – one where the article is written in such a way that you agree with everything that is said, except the conclusion.

For example…

  • “In the news and on social media, the debate over whether kids should go back to traditional schooling in the classroom continues to escalate. This has been partially due to political posturing from November’s election, however, there continues to be a push to get kids back in school, with advocates claiming that virtual schooling has been an abject failure.  But this conclusion is misleading due to confusion of terminology.”
  • “results indicate that students’ experiences with virtual learning in spring 2020 varied markedly according to whether they were enrolled in brick and mortar schools or virtual schools. That outcome does not qualify as a surprise: Virtual schools would be expected to outperform brick and mortar counterparts that were forced to adapt to virtual learning with limited warning.”
  • “Emergency crisis remote learning was a panic response that resulted in high student-to-teacher ratios, failed attempts to replicate the in-class experience, and offline materials that were not integrated into a seamless instruction model. Unfortunately, at-risk students and students who are traditionally underserved were disproportionately impacted by this sudden change in education.”
  • “Data is just starting to show that these students have fallen behind considerably in their academics as a result of this emergency educational model.  This shift to emergency crisis remote leaning also laid bare the technological infrastructure gaps in our country where students and families may not have a computer or reliable internet access to participate in the emergency crisis remote learning.”

All of these things are relatively true.  In fact, I have argued much the same case in the report Understanding pandemic pedagogy: Differences between emergency remote, remote, and online teaching.  However, none of these things support the conclusion that virtual charter schools are a good option for anyone – especially those operated by for profit providers.

All you have to do is skim through A virtual shortfall: How full-time online learning models are not living up to the promise or any of the National Education Policy Center’s Virtual Schooling in the US reports (see here for the 2019 version) to know that full-time virtual schools perform quite miserably compared to their brick-and-mortar counterparts, and those operated by for-profit EMOs (like all of those operated by Stride) are among the worst performers.  In fact, some have even suggested that for many students a failing virtual charter school may be the only alternative to their traditional brick-and-mortar neighborhood school (see Mann & Baker, 2019).

So yes, a failing virtual charter school may be a preferable option compared to the emergency remote learning a school district has thrown together at the last minute.  But make no mistake, it is still a failing virtual charter school!

February 16, 2016

iNACOL Is Delivery Boy For ALEC’S Model Legislation: What’s in YOUR state?

I wanted to start today with a couple of blog entries that have come to my attention recently that I wanted to start today with sharing…

iNACOL IS DELIVERY BOY FOR ALEC’S MODEL LEGISLATION: What’s in YOUR state?

It’s no secret that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has for one of its goals, the privatization (colonization) of public education. It’s no secret that their task force for education policy is routinely co-chaired by leaders from the education technology industry (i.e. Connections Academy). It’s no secret that the education technology industry anticipates the promise of billions of dollars of profits delivering “public education” services.

As Lee Fang says in The NationVenture capitalists and for-profit firms are salivating over the exploding $788.7 billion market in K-12 education.”  

Meet iNACOL … aka International Association for K12 Online Learning. It is the most influential education technology trade group today.  Their Board of Directors includes Mickey Revenaugh, Executive Vice President of Connections Academy.  She is also former Chair for the ALEC education task force. 

As Emily Talmage discovered, iNACOL is a “Trojan horse” for education reform (see minute 1:48).

iNACOL also appears to be the delivery boy (or Trojan horse) for ALEC. Just look at the two screen shots from this 2013 webinar they hosted on the future of technology in education policy entitled “Inacol-2013-02-13-federal-and-state-policy-what-is-needed-for-digital-learning”

inacol (2)inacol2 (2)

(click to enlarge)

Curiously, the title of the state bills in these screen shots, which iNACOL promotes as positive change, have titles identical to ALEC model legislation:

The ALEC  bill states: “The Course Choice Program created by this Act would allow students in public schools and public charter schools to enroll in online, blended, and face-to-face courses not offered by the student’s school, and would allow a portion of that student’s funding to flow to the course provider. This Act creates an authorization process for providers and identifies provider and course eligibility criteria.”

  • Look at that bill in Maine. Here’s what Emily Talmage has to say about the online education bills being pushed there: “In Maine, we are witnessing this very experiment take place in our schools in the form of proficiency-based learning. The Nellie Mae report writes, ‘Schools and districts are developing increasingly mature competency-based pathways and approaches that others can study and potentially replicate.’ States that have not adopted proficiency-based learning will look in the future to data gathered from students and schools in Maine when deciding whether or not to adopt similar legislation to LD 1422.“

And how about the Governor’s Digital Learning Task Force in Georgia? It too has an evil twin:

In 2010, the Foundation for Excellence in Education convened the Digital Learning Council, a diverse group of more than 100 leaders in education, government, philanthropy, business, technology and members of policy think tanks led by Co Chairmen Jeb Bu

sh, and Bob WiseThe 10 Elements of High-Quality Digital Learning were released at this 2010 National Summit on Education Reform. It’s an ALEC model-endorsed comprehensive framework of state-level policies and actions “designed to advance the meaningful and thoughtful integration of technology into K12 public education”

10 Elements draft by Jeb and Bob ALEC’s adopted model legislation
Customization and Success for All Students: All students should be able to access digital learning to customize their education to achieve academic success.Student Access: All students are digital learners. Barriers to Access: All students have access to high quality digital learning. Personalized Learning: All students can use digital learning to customize their education. Advancement: All students progress based on demonstrated competency.

• A Robust Offering of High Quality Options: To effectively customize education, students must be able to choose from an array of rigorous and effective schools and courses.

Quality Content: Digital content and courses are high quality.

Quality Instruction: Digital instruction is high quality.

Quality Choices: All students have access to multiple high quality digital learning providers.

 

Assessment and Accountability: Student learning is the metric for evaluating the quality of content, courses, schools and instruction.

• 21st Century Infrastructure: Education must be modernize to ensure students have access to sustained digital learning.

 

Funding: Funding provides incentives for performance, options and innovations.

 

Infrastructure: Infrastructure supports digital learning

 

WHEREAS, academic success in the 21st century, and therefore the future of our state’s economy, is contingent upon our students’ access to high-quality K-12 education; andWHEREAS, today’s students have access to the internet, technology and devices unavailable to previous generations; and

WHEREAS, excellent educational resources are becoming abundant in digital form, such as online and blended learning opportunities; and

WHEREAS, the primary barriers preventing our students from accessing these high-quality digital learning opportunities are outdated state statutes and policies; and

WHEREAS, this Legislature understands the urgent need for its leadership in removing the policy barriers standing between our children and the digital learning opportunities that can ensure their success, and our state’s, in this Information Age; and

WHEREAS, in August 2010, Governors Jeb Bush and Robert Wise launched the Digital Learning Council with leaders in education, government, philanthropy, business, technology and think tanks to define the actions that lawmakers and policymakers must take to spark a revolution in K-12 digital learning with their actions resulting in the creation of the 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning; and

WHEREAS, it is the intent of this Resolution that the 10 Elements be used as a framework from which to draft legislation specific to each state’s needs and not a mandate on any one body;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that [State] adopts the Digital Learning Council’s 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning, as hereby presented. It is the will of the Legislature that the Elements be incorporated as necessary through future legislation as well as immediate state regulation, strategic planning, guidelines and/or procedures on the part of the [State Education Agency], local education agencies, and any other relevant public or private bodies.

Digital Learning Council’s 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning

1. Student eligibility: All students are digital learners.

2. Student access: All students have access to high-quality digital content and online courses.

3. Personalized learning: All students can customize their education using digital content through an approved digital learning provider.

4. Advancement: Students progress based on demonstrated competency.

5. Content: Digital content, instructional materials, and online and blended learning courses are high quality.

6. Instruction: Digital instruction and teachers are high quality.

7. Digital learning providers: All students have access to multiple high-quality digital learning providers.

8. Assessment and accountability: Student learning is one method of evaluating the quality of content and instruction.

9. Funding: Funding creates incentives for performance, options, and innovation.

10. Delivery: Infrastructure supports digital learning.

Approved by ALEC Board of Directors on September 16, 2011.

 

 

As for the “model” policies iNACOL is promoting from PA and MN? One only need to read the 2011 ALEC Annual Conference Substantive Agenda on Education which states:

“…the Task Force voted on several proposed bills and resolutions, with topics including: digital learning, the Common Core State Standards, charter schools, curriculum on free enterprise, taxpayers’ savings grants, amendments to the existing model legislation on higher education accountability, and a comprehensive bill that incorporates many components of the landmark school reforms Indiana passed this legislative session. Attendees will hear a presentation on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’initiative to grow great schools, as well as one on innovations in higher education.”

Look closely as the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) takes hold and changes begin to take place. The new ESSA favors alternative teacher preparation and creates new funding streams for online education platforms and charter schools.

So…what’s in YOUR state?

Visit more about the ALEC Education Task Force here.

November 4, 2014

ALEC And Online Learning

This came across my radar screen yesterday – ALEC’s Extensive Plans for Education Restructuring in Your State.  It is an interesting read, and I think readers will be particularly interested in this portion:

Now for a great idea: Take lower-performing students and put them in an automated education setting. Call it “virtual public school” to make it sound fancy. Be sure to note that virtual public school “may” help students improve academically.

Virtual Public Schools Act  (2005) 

…“Virtual school” shall mean an independent public school in which the school uses technology in order to deliver a significant portion of instruction to its students via the Internet in a virtual or remote setting. …

Meeting the educational needs of children in our state’s schools is of the greatest importance to the future welfare of [state]…

… Providing a broader range of educational options to parents and utilizing existing resources, along with technology, may help students in our state improve their academic achievement….

Virtual schools established in this article… Must be recognized as public schools and provided equitable treatment and resources as any other public school in the state. [Emphasis added.]

These “schools in front of a screen” may” work– we don’t know if they will prior to pushing through this legislation in [state]– but be sure they get their share of [state’s] public school fiscal pie.

In 2010, ALEC expanded its virtual learning to include a “clearinghouse” of online courses to be offered across districts. The model bill, entitled Online Learning Clearinghouse Act, includes no details regarding the accountability of the online education vendors. There is, however, a section detailing the payment of fees to the unaccountable virtual vendors.

And in order to further ensure that under-regulated online vendors might have a chance to pocket public school funding, in May 2012, ALEC proposed a model bill, Online Course Choice for Students:

This bill opens up the world of high-quality online course instruction to students. Each year, students in public school grades 7-12 would have the option to enroll in up to two online courses that award college credit or meet standards for core academic courses. The state would create standards and accountability measures to ensure that they are providing students with a course catalog containing only high-quality online course offerings. Funding for each online course is driven by the free-market in an open and competitive process, rather than simply allocating a portion of student funding unrelated to the actual cost to deliver the course. (In other words, vendors are paid per student.) Finally, after completion of each online course,parents and students provide feedback via the web in an open forum to rate the effectiveness of the course.  This feedback, combined with test scores, provides a quality indicator ranking that is available to all. [Emphasis added.]

No agency monitors these vendors to guarantee that teaching and learning are actually happening.

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